That's why it came as no surprise when Adam Schefter of ESPN reported the Bills had done just that. The move was later confirmed by the Bills official Twitter account.
Buffalo Bills @buffalobills
The #Bills have placed the franchise tag on s @jairusbyrd3/1/2013, 5:57:53 PM
Byrd is unarguably one of the top three safeties in the NFL, so paying him the average of the top five salaries at his position for one year makes sense, but it doesn't stop there.
Four More Years
Now that the Bills can rest easy that their best defensive player isn't going anywhere this offseason, they must make sure he doesn't go anywhere in future offseasons, either.
There's almost no risk in signing Byrd to a long-term deal. He is entering his fifth year in the league at just 26 years old, and has at least a few more years left in his prime.
What's more, the Bills' new defense under Mike Pettine functions at its fullest potential with a ball-hawking safety. Byrd could be a building block for their new-look defense for years to come.
If the Bills have any common sense, a three- or four-year deal should be in the works.
Other Free-Agent Priorities
The Bills have decisions to make on cornerback Leodis McKelvin and offensive guards Chad Rinehart and Andy Levitre.
Levitre should take precedence, as the most talented and most important component of those three.
He has never missed a start since joining the Bills in 2009. He graded out as ProFootballFocus.com's top guard in pass-blocking efficiency in 2012, and has finished in the top 10 in two of the past three years. The only year he didn't was in 2011, when he moved around between guard and tackle as the Bills combated a litany of injuries on the offensive line.
Bills Secondary: More Holes than Swiss Cheese
Byrd is an elite safety, but he can't do it all by himself back there. Beyond Byrd and second-year cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the Bills don't have any answers in the secondary.
The starting spot opposite each is wide open.
The Bills released safety George Wilson, opening up the strong safety spot. Who knows whether Da'Norris Searcy is in the plan as the starting strong safety next year, but if the Bills roll with their current group, that's what they'll be left with.
At cornerback, the Bills have a logjam of uncertainty with McKelvin, Ron Brooks, Aaron Williams and Justin Rogers. Here are some numbers for those four defenders (via ProFootballFocus.com):
- Rogers: average passer rating against of 95.9 over the past two years, completion percentage against of 66.7.
- McKelvin: has never allowed a passer rating against of lower than 93.2 (which he achieved in 2012).
- Williams: 10 touchdowns against, one interception, seven passes defensed in his two-year career, and has allowed over 14 yards per catch in each of his two years.
- Brooks: limited sample size (162 snaps in 2012) but allowed a touchdown into his coverage in three consecutive games (opponents were the Jaguars, Rams and Seahawks).
Who starts opposite could be a battle for the lesser of four evils, and in that area, it's safe to say no one has an edge. Although any of the four could line up in the slot, none of them are what Pettine prefers in an outside corner.
If the Bills decide they are not happy with that group, they could target a cornerback in free agency or the draft.
Either way, their work is far from done.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless otherwise specified, all quotes are obtained firsthand or via team press releases.
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